“Ko-Ko” was a song recorded on this date in 1940 by the famous Blanton-Webster version of the Duke Ellington Orchestra (bassist Jimmy Blanton and saxophonist Ben Webster were featured soloists). Ellington said that the song was meant to evoke Congo Square in New Orleans (where Louis Armstrong Park is now), a place where African-Americans gathered on Sundays in the pre-jazz days of the nineteenth century to dance to drum music. The Duke originally intended it to be part of his musical history that eventually became the jazz symphony “Black, Brown and Biege” (1943).
Even today, this song has an exotic, raw energy to it. One can hear how it might have been disturbing for some people who listened to it at the time. The whole Ellington band is in attack mode on the piece, with Harry Carney blowing a rhythmic baritone sax and Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton “speaking” through his trombone. Nanton was one of the pioneers of the use of the plunger mute and he employs a raucous “wah-wah” voicing to great effect here.